By the time she opened her art gallery in 2011, Lenora Claire had already been the face of ad campaigns, featured on billboards and named one of LA Weekly’s People of the Year. She had already successfully cut her teeth as a television producer, art curator, journalist and media personality.
Then her stalker started to terrorize her.
He showed up to the gallery opening wearing a spacesuit. His name was Justin Massler. “When you’re an art person, you kind of have a high tolerance for shenanigans,” Claire told Ms. “I just thought he was a kind of fun art weirdo, so I engaged him.” But then he started to show his intentions.
“As we were talking, he looked at me and he said: ‘You remind me of Jessica Rabbit from the 5th element. You’re a supreme being. I’m gonna stalk you.’ So, now I’ve realized he’s a disturbing person. I kicked him out of the gallery, didn’t think much more about it and moved on with my life.”
Massler had already been arrested for stalking Ivanka Trump—and had been extradited before standing trial for his crimes in New York. He skipped out on bail and escaped to Los Angeles, where he saw a picture of Claire in L.A. Weekly and became totally fixated and obsessed. Trump filed a restraining order against Massler that year, and in 2012 he was charged with aggravated harassment.
He started writing Claire from jail. In the first year, the letters were mostly crazy ramblings; then they escalated to rape and death threats. “He’s schizophrenic and he feels that I’m a sorceress with special powers,” Claire recounted to Ms. “He feels like he has to kidnap me so he can harness my powers, or he thinks that we can fight ISIS together. He has this weird fixation with big breasts, and told me many times that he’s upset that I don’t do porn. So the rape threats he sends me are super graphic. He wrote me an entire series called ‘The Lord of the Racks’ saga, which is like a… Lord of The Rings-themed rape saga.”
Claire went to the police to file a restraining order, but because Massler did not have a fixed address it couldn’t be served. Years later, in 2015, Massler sent her boss a death threat. Claire was working as a casting director and had been working with the same employer for five years—but Massler was communicating that he knew where Claire worked, and she knew she had to leave her job.
Claire went back to the police to seek help. She was able to provide a mountain of evidence—unlike most stalkers, Massler tweets and makes videos about his crimes—but despite it all, she was victim shamed. The LAPD officers she spoke with told her to dye her hair and delete all her social media accounts—both ideas which would have been impossible and ineffective for her career and her situation.
It was Claire’s appearance on Crime Watch Daily that connected her to Randa Saunders, the former District Attorney for Southern California who wrote the state’s stalking laws in 1991.
“Stalking is typically a misdemeanor,” Claire told Ms. “The problem with the way these crimes are handled is that the response is usually reactionary rather than preventative. This guy is telling me all day that he’s going to stalk and kill me, but law enforcement can’t take action until he actually rapes or kills me. It’s not even possible to extradite a misdemeanor.”
While California has the best stalking laws in the country, Claire knew that the laws were extremely outdated—so she and and Saunders began coming up with legislative proposals to improve them.
The proposal was two-fold, and focused on using technology to support victims and deter stalkers. Claire wants to make it possible to serve a restraining order electronically—eliminating the roadblocks she faced due to a lack of address for Massler—and create a national stalking registry. Claire began working with Congressman Adam Schiff, who took her ideas to the Justice Department—but the recent administration change threw a wrench in the process.
Claire is aware of—and frustrated by—the irony of this situation. “The Trumps have the largest platform of the world. They’ve done nothing about this bipartisan issue. And here I am, a normal person—creating legislation, working with a congressman, taking my stuff to the Department of Justice, being published in the Harvard Journal of Legislation. They haven’t done sh*t, and it’s disgusting.”
Claire also proposed an electronic system allowing stalking victims to see the status of their case to the LA District Attorney’s office, but they have yet to take her up on the idea.
The setbacks in Claire’s pursuit of justice haven’t stopped her from doing all she can to raise awareness about stalking and support victims. Her congressional and local efforts are stalled, but she has been working on new projects and campaigns to fill the gaps in services and legal options available to stalking victims nationwide. She started working on pushing new anti-stalking laws. She started a nonprofit with Peggy Ferral, a lawyer and a stalking victim, to connect pro-bono lawyers with stalking survivors and offer grants for stalking survivors who want the support of a trained therapy dog. She is creating an app that would alert victims when their stalker is in close proximity. She also does all she can to encourage people to get involved in efforts to prevent stalking, and is building a hub for people to take action on her website.
“I really want to empower victims,” Claire told Ms. “7.5 million Americans are being stalked… This is an epidemic. We had one failed shoe-bomber in an airport in America, and then airport security was changed forever. Why aren’t we doing anything about the stalking epidemic?”
Claire is also working on an investigative docuseries centered on helping stalking victims. In each episode, Claire will help victims find and track their stalkers, help them get restraining orders served and guide them through how to limit their risks. This will be the first show that fully examines stalking stories.
Claire has continued to be harassed and threatened by Massler. He was eventually served his restraining order in police custody—but it took him three hours to break it, and he continues to violate it every day. The Los Angeles Police Department and District Attorney continue to be slow to respond and act on developments in her case.
Massler was placed in a mental facility in Reno right before the election, after Claire was featured on 48 Hours and the producers called him on a number he had posted publicly and found out his location. After the election, however, Massler escaped—and was eventually picked up by the Secret Services a block away from Trump Tower. He was sentenced to only six weeks in prison.
Claire’s personal and professional life have been completely altered by Massler’s crimes. She used to throw huge parties and do trading art shows with prominent artists—but her last birthday eked by quietly. Her Google search results were, for a time, filled with death threats, rape threats and rape narratives. “I work so hard,” she explained to Ms. “I’ve done a lot of things in my life. I’ve had a lot of accomplishments… And like, on any first date I have to disclose everything about my stalker. It’s affected every facet of my life. It’s pretty disgusting that this person has tried to ruin all of this for me.”
But in the face of all these threats, Claire has chosen not to hide in the shadows.
“I felt like I had to come forward,” she told Ms. “It’s easy for me to call up a friend and get featured on 48 Hours. People without my platform are rightfully afraid of instigating their stalker—but I realized that no matter what I did, he would harass me, so I decided to go public and make some change.”
You can reach Claire at lenoraclaire at gmail dot com.
Alexa Antonelli is a senior at Biola University graduating this spring with a degree in English Literature. When she isn’t reading or writing about feminist issues, she’s usually in her car listening to podcasts and trying to stay chill while turning left on the streets of Los Angeles.